Monthly Archives: August 2014

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rep. everettBy Rep. Garth Everett

Since 2011, when Gov. Tom Corbett took office and Republicans regained the majority in the state House, I have heard ad nauseam about how “Corbett cut education by a billion dollars” or “Corbett is underfunding education.” Let’s just take a look at the facts.

First, governors do not enact budgets by themselves. In February of each year, the governor proposes a budget to start the process. Following that, both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have public hearings with each department and agency of state government to review in detail each proposed appropriation. In addition, both the House and Senate committee chairmen take feedback from their respective committee members and from all members of their respective chambers.

When that review process is complete, both the House and Senate develop their own revised budgets and the negotiation process begins among the House and Senate leaders and the governor’s office. To say that this can be an intense process would be a vast understatement. Each chamber and member of the General Assembly and the governor have differing views and priorities on both revenues and expenditures, and getting 102 votes in the House, 26 in the Senate and the governor onboard is an exhausting undertaking.

My point in outlining the budget process is simply to point out that the enacted budget is not the “governor’s” budget – it is the product of a process – not the dictate of one person, though I will agree that the governor’s one veto vote carries a lot more weight than my one vote on the Appropriations Committee or on the floor of the House.

Next, let’s look at the facts of state education funding in the budgets enacted under the last two governors. In particular, let’s look at Gov. Ed Rendell’s last three education budgets and the four under Corbett. In the 2009-10 budget, Rendell asked for, and the Democratic House approved, a reduction in state education spending from $9.6 billion to $9.2 billion. This reduction was “backfilled” with $655 million in federal stimulus funds to bring about an apparent increase in spending on education.

Again in the 2010-11 budget, Rendell asked for and the Democratic House approved a reduction in state education spending from the previous year’s $9.2 billion to $8.9 billion. Again this reduction was backfilled with $1 billion in federal stimulus funds to bring about another apparent increase in spending on education.

The problems with using short-term stimulus funds are many. First, it sets school districts up for failure. Despite warnings that these stimulus dollars would go away after two years and that state funding would go back to pre-stimulus levels, many school districts folded these stimulus funds into their operating budgets, hired new teachers and staff, took on new debt and generally increased spending to levels which would not be sustainable without significant school property tax increases.

Second, from a state budget perspective, relying on stimulus funds to be part of the general education funding line also set the state budget up for failure by artificially inflating the revenue for the overall state budget. In the 2009-10 and 2010-11 budgets, the $655 million and $1 billion in federal stimulus funds that were used in the education line item were treated as revenue and shifted into increased spending in other line items of the budget.

Fast forward to 2011-12 – Corbett takes office, the majority in the House shifts to the Republicans, and the $1 billion in federal stimulus dollars for education go away. Because of this loss of $1 billion and other “smoke and mirrors” budgeting by the previous governor and House, the new governor and House are faced with a $4 billion deficit going into their first budget. This results in a lot of belt tightening in departments and agencies across the board – particularly the Department of Public Welfare.

To avoid the “budget crunch” both school districts and the state faced in 2011-12 and in subsequent budget years, those stimulus funds in 2009-11 should not have been used as “revenue” for spending in the general fund but rather used as block grants for specific capital investments at school districts above and beyond our normal state education funding. In that way, we would not have ended up with artificially high levels of spending that cannot be sustained with our existing revenue stream.

Now, let’s take a look at education spending during Corbett’s years in office. The first “Corbett budget” in 2011-12 included $9.4 billion of state funds for education – an increase of $500 million over the previous year’s state spending in the last “Rendell budget.” In the next “Corbett budget” of 2012-13, state spending on education was again increased $300 million to $9.7 billion – the highest amount of state funding in history. Again in the 2013-14 budget, state spending on education was increased to $9.98 billion – another record. Finally, in this year’s budget for 2014-15, “we” increased state spending on education to an all-time high of $10.5 billion.

So, the question remains – where does the claim of Tom Corbett’s $1 billion cut in education come from? The only answer is that the facts do not bear out the claim, and that the only $1 billion cut in education was the loss of federal stimulus funding in 2011.

Rep. Garth D. Everett is a Republican from Lycoming County who represents the 84th District.

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MC  Kathleen KaneAttorney General Kathleen Kane has issued administrative subpoenas throughout the shale industry in Pennsylvania, broadening her review of natural gas royalty payment practices beyond Chesapeake Energy Corporation.
Sources confirmed administrative subpoenas have been issued throughout the energy industry for information about royalty calculations and payments in what is seen as an industry-wide survey to look at practices of such companies operating in Pennsylvania.

The Office of Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection Antitrust Section issued the subpoenas. Kane spokesman J.J. Abbott and a spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition declined to comment on the matter.

Landowners have complained to legislators that Chesapeake, the largest drilling company operating in Pennsylvania, was deducting “excessive” post-production costs from royalty payments, causing those payments to drop below the mandated one-eighth minimum guaranteed royalty.

Responding to constituent complaints, Gov. Tom Corbett and Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming, asked Kane earlier this year to review Chesapeake’s royalty payment practices.

The 1979 Guaranteed Minimum Royalty Act says royalty payments must be 12.5 percent, or one-eighth, of the production value. However, the law says companies are allowed to tax leaseholders for post-production costs, which include things like adding compression, dehydration, gathering, and transportation.

Legislative efforts to address the issue and clarify the minimum royalty payments stalled a few months ago. The industry pushed back hard against legislation they said amounted to lawmakers trying to tamper with private leases. The industry believes companies are responsible for the costs of bringing the gas to the surface, but companies and leaseholders share the cost of preparing and delivering the gas to market, pursuant to terms of a lease.

Rep. Garth Everett, R-Lycoming, who sponsored one of the bills, has said rural Pennsylvanians signed “company leases” with little legal knowledge, unaware of the specifics of the agreement they signed. He called the leases “one-sided” in favor of industry.

“The legislation needs to provide relief, not only to those with one-eighth leases, but to those with higher percentage agreements. This must include not just rules on how royalties are calculated but also remedies for land owners who feel that their royalties are not being calculated correctly,” said Everett.

Everett’s bill, House Bill 1684, was passed by the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee with bipartisan support. It seeks not only to remedy the lease payments, but to ensure that drilling companies do not deduct excessive and unwarranted post-production costs from the payments as well. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2010 issued a ruling suggesting that the General Assembly further clarify the 1979 law on how royalty payments are calculated, and the legislation would do that.

The Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake last August settled a federal class-action lawsuit filed in Scranton brought by more than 1,000 leaseholders for no less than $7.5 million to cover the cost of post-production deductions.
In broadening her office’s investigation, Kane issued administrative subpoenas, which differ from traditional subpoenas and are considered controversial because judicial oversight is not required.

Pennsylvania’s Administrative Code gives state departments, as well as independent and departmental commissions subpoena power to require “the attendance of witnesses and the production of books and papers pertinent to any hearing before such department, board, commission, or officer, and to examine such witnesses, books, and papers.”

Refusal to comply with the administrative subpoena could result in a contempt of court charge, according to the administrative code.

Kane, a Democrat elected to office in 2012, campaigned on aggressively monitoring the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania.

Kane’s office in January filed charges in criminal court against XTO Energy, an Exxon-Mobil subsidiary, for alleged violations of state environmental laws. In June, she filed numerous criminal charges including fraud and conspiracy against a Marcellus Shale waste hauling business in Northumberland County.

–Kevin Zwick, Capitolwire

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circuit riderEleven “circuit riders” have been deployed across the state on a year-long mission to educate school district officials about the need for a fair and predictable basic education funding formula in Pennsylvania.

The riders — current and former superintendents and executive directors, themselves — are sharing all there is to know about the state’s history of education funding, “principles and models of good school funding systems, and effective advocacy strategies,” in an effort to galvanize the support of superintendents, business managers and school board representatives statewide.
What the riders won’t do, however, is define what a fair and predictable formula looks like.

“The message is very clear across Pennsylvania, there are a lot of inequities,” said Jay Himes, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Board Officials. “The current funding formula does not lend itself to an equitable funding system. Our role isn’t to find where those dollars will come from. Our mission isn’t to identify formula parameters. We’re just not at that point yet.”

The riders, using information gathered by the Basic Education Funding Campaign, will focus on spreading awareness about the economic factors driving the inequities of the state’s current funding mechanism — a system which promises school districts the same amount of state aid from the year before (the hold-harmless provision) plus whatever additional dollars districts draw down through state supplements, such as Gov. Tom Corbett’s Ready to Learn Block Grant or extra money set aside for small school districts or districts with high rates of poverty.

Patricia Sanker, a circuit rider and former South Middleton School District Superintendent in Cumberland County, said a district’s relative wealth — defined by a calculation that combines property values and personal incomes — impacts the educational opportunities, such as full-day kindergarten, available to individual students.

For school districts who rely heavily on state aid each year, cuts in education spending — such as the loss of $655 million in federal stimulus dollars in 2011 — produced a drop in state spending per student by as much as $1,000. Wealthier districts, who can raise revenue through local tax increases, lost around $100 per student in state funding.

And the state’s current “Band-Aid” approach to fixing those funding inequities — by awarding supplements to districts who can’t grow their tax base or who have high concentrations of children living in poverty, for example — just create more problems than they fix, officials say.

“Supplements that just affect some school districts are not an answer,” said Joe Bard, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools. “We need something that addresses all school districts. Supplements do not do that.”

“The base amount of money that is allocated is not really responsive to school districts across the state, particularly if you look at high-growth districts,” said Jim Buckheit, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators. “(The districts) that have seen dramatic growth over the last 10 to 15 years, they’ve gotten very little additional money. The supplements are just insufficient to make up for the major changes in enrollments in populations.”

“The process is broken,” said Larry Feinberg, a circuit rider and school director for Haverford School District in Delaware County. “Every year, we go through our budgeting exercise and we hold our breath and wait to see” what the district will get from the state.

So while the riders will spend the next year updating school officials about what has created the state’s funding inequities, the Basic Education Funding Commission will develop a new formula designed to fix the problems and ensure the “fair, equitable” distribution of state aid.

The riders will each receive a $25,000 stipend and paid travel expenses, funded through grant money collected by the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, the William Penn Foundation, the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools, and the Pennsylvania Association of Intermediate Units.

“Great progress has been made this year with the governor and secretary of education admitting the need to change the way state dollars are distributed to support schools, and with the creation of a legislative commission to make recommendations for a new formula,” Buckheit said. “However, the disparities in state support for schools across Pennsylvania are well documented and the components of an equitable funding formula are well studied. Now is the time for action to ensure we fix the problem.”
–Christen Smith, Capitolwire

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CapWatch_Feb13_e2Jack Shea, president of the Allegheny County Labor Council which organizes the Pittsburgh Labor Day Parade has barred Gov. Tom Corbett from marching, overruling an invitation from the Laborers District Council of Western Pennsylvania, which endorsed the Republican governor. Corbett’s Democratic opponent Tom Wolf has been invited and will march.

“I believe that I am a friend of labor. Obviously, Mr. Shea doesn’t feel that way,” Corbett said Aug. 25 at the groundbreaking of a Consol Energy well pad on Pittsburgh International Airport property. Corbett said he will speak to members of the Laborers during a private event after the parade.

In an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Shea said, “He’s against us 364 days a year and then one day of the year he wants to march with us? It doesn’t make sense.”

In dismissing Corbett this year, Shea has mentioned the governor’s support for privatizing state-run wine and spirit stores, which employ about 3,500 union clerks. Corbett said his support of privatized liquor stores is not anti-union but pro-consumer Corbett said to the Tribune-Review.

“What he is worried about is the public-sector unions more than the trades and the private-sector unions,” Corbett said of Shea to the Tribune-Review.

Marty Marks, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, said it is tradition for the labor council to invite only politicians it has endorsed. Republican Congressman Tim Murphy of has marched in the parade with the labor council’s endorsement.

“Most people that have an anti-labor record to the extent that Tom Corbett does won’t be so presumptuous to assume that they would be invited,” Marks told the paper.

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educationThe Basic Education Funding Commission — a collection of state lawmakers and administration officials tasked with creating a “fair, equitable” funding formula for public schools — agree that Pennsylvania’s current mechanism leaves poor school districts disproportionately vulnerable to state-level cuts in education spending.
“It’s been so hard to follow, when it comes to running a school operation … to be able to determine what you have available to you to sustain that operation over time, the last 30 years have been very challenging in that respect,” said Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, co-chair of the commission, during Wednesday’s meeting. “We have to reflect on that.”

In fact, the challenges facing today’s commission began much earlier than the 1980s — lawmakers have been grappling with similar problems since The Great Depression, based upon the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools 2013 report on the history of education funding, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission archives and testimony from the state Department of Education.

Pennsylvania School Board Association statistics — gleaned the Rural and Small Schools Association’s report on the history of school funding — chronicled the fluctuations in state public education aid before the implementation of the Public School Code of 1949.

In 1930, according to PSBA records, 83 percent of education costs “were funded locally, almost exclusively by property taxes.” As the depression squeezed income levels and reduced property tax revenue, state public education subsidies swelled to 30 percent in 1940. A decade later, state aid to school districts would surpass 40 percent.

The Hare-Lee-Sollenberger Act of 1945 restructured state aid to public education following the Great Depression. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission archives report that to amp up funding levels, state lawmakers determined a figure for the “basic amount to educate a room full of students” — defined as 30 students in an elementary school or 22 students in a secondary school — at $1,800, with gradual increases each year.

At the time, the state Department of Public Instruction — now the Department of Education — guaranteed each district that met state education standards would receive at least an $1,800 subsidy each year, but the source of the money, state or local, depended upon the “real property wealth of the district.”

That meant, in effect, poor districts leaned heavily on state subsidies while local tax dollars, almost exclusively, financed wealthier districts.

And the situation hasn’t changed much for the better part 70 years. Rep. Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster, said during the commission’s meeting Wednesday that the state’s across-the-board and line-item percentage cuts harmed poorer districts — some who lost $1,000 in funding per student — while wealthier districts were able to sustain funding levels, sometimes only losing $100 per student in state aid.

The inequity of state subsidies was a problem for lawmakers in the 1920s, too.
In 1927, Columbia University Professor Paul Mort — chair of a commission tasked with studying the distribution of state education subsidies on behalf of the administration and the General Assembly — recommended each district receive “the same amount of tax revenues per teacher unit.” Because Pennsylvania lacked uniform county assessment laws (and still does), the report called for the creation of an independent body to assess true market values in each district.

But lawmakers wouldn’t get around to creating the State Tax Equalization Board — now called the Tax Equalization Division — until 1947. This board determined a “per teacher unit,” which calculated the state’s subsidy level through 1957.

Both the Tax Equalization Board and the Hare-Lee-Sollenberger Act would be consolidated, with other existing public school laws, into the Public School Code of 1949 — the “main source for legislative authority” for state education public policy, even today.

In Act 391 of 1957, lawmakers created the first “add ons” — or supplements — to its funding formula, in order to incentivize the creation of “joint and union districts.” Financial supplements still exist and cover a range of district circumstances, from high poverty rates to enrollment growth to low population density.

While the funding formula remained unchanged for the next nine years, according to the commission report, national perspective surrounding education began shifting.
“With the successful launch of Sputnik in 1957, the Nation’s collective eye was turned to the issue of education and specifically science education,” commission members Janice Bissett and Arnold Hillman wrote in the report. “In President Eisenhower’s 1958 State of the Union Address, he outlined a series of activities the federal government must undertake to meet the military and education challenge that the Russians posed.”

Eisenhower called for a four-year $1 billion investment into the Department of Health, Education and Welfare “designed principally to encourage improved teaching quality and student opportunities in the interest of national security.”

The directive spurred the growth of additional science courses for students, science fairs and clubs in public education systems across the country. Graduation requirements also expanded to include science proficiency.

Act 580 of 1966 established the state’s 50-percent subsidy rate to school districts. The new formula reimbursed school districts $1.2 billion in the 1974-75 school year — the highest rate ever until the policy was repealed in 1983, according the Association of Rural and Small Schools report.

The official 1966 formula included variables related to district ratio aid, actual instruction costs and weighted average daily membership. It also established a new base salary for teachers and consolidated the state’s 2,500 school districts into 505.
Department of Education Deputy Secretary Nichole Duffy described weighted average daily membership as the calculation of enrollment figures multiplied by the number of hours students spend in school. She said weights were added to the formula depending on a child’s grade level and whether kindergarten at the school lasted a full or half-day.

During the late 1970s, lawmakers tried to balance its growing subsidy and ensure its fair distribution statewide with the equalized supplement for student learning, but “artificial aid ratios” tied into the original formula “skewed the final distribution.”
In 1983, lawmakers repealed the 50 percent reimbursement guarantee and instead established a factor for education expense (FEE), set at $1,650 through Act 31. The new formula, the equalized subsidy for basic education, added supplements for low income students, local tax efforts and population density per square mile. School districts, under the new law, were guaranteed a minimum of a 2-percent funding increase each year.

One year later, the FEE was increased to $1,725 and the Legislature bumped the minimum funding increase up to 3 percent. In 1985, lawmakers added the small district assistance supplement and capped funding increases between 2 percent and 7.45 percent.

Through 1993, the Legislature created six more funding supplements that tackled challenges related to poverty levels, small districts’ limited ability to increase local taxes, and enrollment growth. In 1994, the hold-harmless provision guaranteed districts would receive state funding at a level no less than the previous year’s allocation.

This provision remains a source of conflict among legislators today: supporters say the money guarantees the survival of small, rural districts who depend on the subsidy due to a limited tax base, while opponents argue the provision stiffs growing school districts in need of extra funds for capital expenditures.

After the results of a 2008 costing-out study determined the state was spending $4.3 billion less than what it should on education, then-Gov. Ed Rendell created a 6-year plan to boost state aid to districts from just over 30 percent to more than 56 percent. In the 2008-09 school year, the Legislature increased basic education by $275 million.

Some 464 school districts that year qualified for a state-share “phase-in” of additional funding targets. Another 235 school districts shared $22.9 million for transition funding. The total basic education funding allocation for the year was $4.87 billion.
Through 2011, school districts collected around $1.6 billion in supplemental funding. Federal stimulus dollars allowed the Legislature to continue to direct additional funding to school districts despite declining state revenues.

In the 2011-12 school year, the stimulus money dried up, and while much of the basic education funding went unreplaced, Gov. Tom Corbett and the Legislature appropriated $233 million in supplemental funds, including a $105 million add-on spread amongst all 500 school districts for “student-focused” initiatives. Another 14 districts split $29 million in supplemental funding for a high incidence of ELL students, personal income disparities and hardship due to subsidy loss.

The Corbett administration, though lambasted by Democrats for cutting basic education subsidies for charter school reimbursement payments and the Accountability Block Grant, among others, has continued supplementing district funding through the current school year, trying to off-set the impact of decreased state spending in poorer districts.

“The costing out study had some very interesting research,” said Sen. Andrew Dinniman, D-Chester, during the commission’s meeting. “Maybe if we look at low-cost, high performing districts, we might get some insight.”

Browne said that the only component of any formulas used in the past “that has maintained sustainability is relative wealth.”

“Historical review is very valuable at least,” Browne said. “You don’t know where you’re going unless you know where you are and where you’ve been. The foundation of a good formula is predictability and sustainability. Historical actions do not present us that foundation.”

Now you know.

–Christen Smith, Capitolwire

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gender gapWomen’s rights in the United States have made leaps and bounds since the passage of the 19th Amendment. Yet many women today still struggle to crack the proverbial glass ceiling. And it doesn’t take a feminist to convince anyone that the gender gap in 21st-century America remains disgracefully wide. In 2013, the U.S. failed to make the top 10 — or even the top 20 — of the World Economic Forum’s list of the most gender-equal countries. In fact, the U.S. had fallen one spot to No. 23 since 2012 and six spots since 2011 on the WEC’s annual Global Gender Gap Index. Worse, it lagged behind developing nations — including Burundi, Lesotho, Nicaragua and the Philippines — with primary areas of weakness in economic participation and political empowerment.

Pennsylvania ranked 23rd.

Perhaps most apparent about the issue is how far gender inequality stretches in the American workplace environment. Even with all their advances toward social equality thus far, women continue to be disproportionately under-represented in leadership positions. This past March, the Center for American Progress reported that women “are only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners, and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs.” And though they comprise the majority of the labor force in the financial services and health care industries, none are head honchos of their companies.

Apart from unequal representation in executive leadership, salary inequity also has been central to the gender gap debate. Few experts dispute the existence of an earnings gap between women and men, but defining the issue in simple terms remains a challenge. Although the U.S. has completely closed its gender education gap, about two-thirds of minimum-wage workers across the country are female, according to the National Women’s Law Center. At a federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, the NWLC points out, a full-time worker would earn only $14,500 a year, placing a three-person family “thousands of dollars below the federal poverty line.”

In observance of Women’s Equality Day on Aug. 26, WalletHub crunched the numbers to gauge the scope of gender-based disparities in each of the 50 U.S. states. WalletHub examined 10 key metrics, ranging from the gap in the number of female and male executives to the disparity between women’s and men’s life expectancy to the imbalance of their political representation. By highlighting the most and least gender-egalitarian states, WalletHub accomplished three goals: help women find the best career opportunities, empower them to keep fighting for their rights and encourage states to learn from one another.

Women’s Equality in Pennsylvania (1=best)
• 18th – Earnings Gap
• 31st – Executive Positions Gap
• 38th – Workday Hours Gap
• 32nd – Educational Attainment Gap
• 32nd – Minimum-Wage Workers Gap
• 32nd – Unemployment Rate Gap
• 42nd – Political Representation Gap
For the full report, go to:

http://wallethub.com/edu/best-and-worst-states-for-women-equality/5835/

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    ghost in parking lot 4The state Department of Education has released eight months of records that they say show when Ronald Tomalis, the governor’s former higher education adviser and  Education Secretary, entered and exited a state parking garage, a move that’s part of an effort to quash criticism that he was a no-show employee making $139,000 a year.

    According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, records from 2014 show Tomalis’ vehicle entering and exiting the garage 133 days during the eight-month period. Records for 2013 were not available from the Harrisburg Parking Authority, which oversees a garage some state employees use, said Tim Eller, a department spokesman.

    The release comes after Senate Education Chairman Mike Folmer said acting Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq showed him records that convinced him that Tomalis was not a “ghost employee.”

    Campaign for a Fresh Start Spokesman Mike Mikus described the meeting as “top secret,” adding that the meeting “raises more questions than it answers.”

    Folmer also told the Tribune-Review that he was shown approximately 700 of Tomalis’s emails.

    Mikus added if true, this means that the Corbett Administration is blatantly violating Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know laws, as they released only a meager five emails by Tomalis over a 15-month span to the paper in July after the paper filed Right-to-Know requests.

    “The stench of scandal within Tom Corbett’s Department of Education just got worse,” Mikus said. “Instead of holding secret meetings, Tom Corbett and his Education Department need to come clean and release the electronic records they showed Folmer. They need to explain why they share information with political allies and not the taxpayers. Why are they keeping public records from the public? If Ron Tomalis actually worked, where is the proof? Why, after three weeks, are there more questions than answers surrounding Ron Tomalis’s employment?” Mikus said before the records were relesed.
    The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported in July that there was little proof that Tomalis performed any work. Their report revealed that Tomalis made on average less than one phone call per day and had sent just five emails over more than a year and went weeks without scheduled meetings.

    Katie McGinty, Fresh Start chair added that in 160 workdays, Ron Tomalis did not show up to the office 34 times and rarely was in the office for a full day.

    “It is time for Tom Corbett to clean house in the Department of Education,” McGinty said.

    “The people of Pennsylvania deserve a transparent government that they can trust. Gov. Corbett’s Administration offers them nothing more than secret meetings and cover ups,” Mikus said. “It is far past time for Tom Corbett to stop the stonewalling. It’s been three weeks since the Tomalis scandal broke.

    “It doesn’t prove any work was done. It proves his car was parked. He’s still special adviser to the governor, and he never met with the governor.”

    Corbett’s calendar from May 2013 through mid-July of this year showed no Tomalis meeting entries.
    The Corbett campaign fired back. “Instead of trying to manufacture scandals to smear Gov. Tom Corbett, perhaps millionaire Tom Wolf should start manufacturing some details on his pathetically lacking campaign platform that demonstrates that he is in no way qualified to run a state with 12.7 million people,” said Chris Pack, communications director for Corbett’s campaign.

    Folmer, R-Lebanon County, said he resented insinuations by Fresh Start that he was part of a cover-up attempting to help Corbett, who oversees the Department of Education.

    “I’m not the bad guy in this,” Folmer said. “I told them (agency officials) to share everything they shared with me.”

     

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      Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
      Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

      Defense attorneys took turns trying to poke holes in the state’s criminal case against a former Senate leader, three former Turnpike officials, a vendor and a consultant during a pre-trial hearing Monday on an alleged Turnpike corruption scandal.

      They argued the state’s case is “fundamentally flawed” and should not move forward to a jury trial scheduled for mid-November in Dauphin County court.

      The catchphrase of the day-long hearing was “quid pro quo” and defense attorneys aimed to prove the state’s case lacked this critical element in proving how thousands of dollars in political contributions directly led to millions of dollars in Turnpike contracts.

      “It is very easy to take contributions in one column and contractors in another and draw a line,” said defense lawyer William Fetterhoff, who pointed to contributions received by Corbett from firms with PennDOT contracts.

      But, Fetteroff said, the attorney general needs to show the contributions influenced official action.

      Former Senate Democratic leader Bob Mellow, former Turnpike CEO Joseph Brimmeier, former Turnpike commissioner Mitchell Rubin, and former Turnpike COO George Hatalowich face various charges including bribery, bid-rigging, conflict of interest and corruption organization. Their lawyers are seeking dismissal of charges, or at least separate trials, while all but one – Rubin – argued for a speedy trial on the charges resulting from an investigation started under then-Attorney General Tom Corbett.

      At one point, a defense lawyer threw the term “quid pro quo” back at the attorney general’s office, citing a press release that said an aborted sting operation, first reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer, “failed to establish the critical criminal element of ‘quid pro quo’ or cash payments directly in exchange for official action.”

      Vendor Dennis Miller and vendor consultant Jeffrey Suzenski face lesser charges. They also are seeking a dismissal and, at the very least, trials separate from the higher-profile defendants. Mark Sheppard, Miller’s lawyer, said his client’s contributions “weren’t enough” to get him out of the case, claiming the investigation let larger contributors off the hook for political reasons. Both Sheppard and Suzenski lawyer Michael Engle asked for charges to be dismissed because they were selectively prosecuted.

      Philadelphia lawyer David Shapiro said his client, Rubin, who acted as a member of the commission and eventually the commission’s chairman, had a “good faith belief” that as long as there was no quid pro quo, he did not have a criminal intent.

      Other lawyers said their clients did not agree with Shapiro’s argument – Briar said Shapiro’s argument was hostile to the other defendants, who are calling for separate trials to avoid a confused jury if the charges are not dropped.

      One of the requests from former Mellow’s lawyers, Dan Brier and Sal Cognetti, was a motion to dismiss on claims of double jeopardy. Assistant U.S. Attorney Francis Sempa on Monday said he handed over to state investigators FBI and IRS files stemming from a federal investigation into Mellow prior to state charges being announced against the former top Senate Democrat. Mellow’s lawyers claim federal investigators encouraged the state to file additional charges against him. Sempa said he did not discuss any ongoing state investigation involving Mellow when he met with state investigators.

      Dauphin County Judge Richard Lewis suggested Mellow’s lawyers faced an uphill climb to show the charges were the same, to which Briar responded that it’s not the same offense or charge but the same conduct.

      Senior Deputy Attorney General Laurel Brandstetter would not comment after Monday’s hearing, a spokesman said. She is set to argue the state’s case on the pre-trial motions Tuesday at 10 a.m. in Dauphin County Court.

      Recent newspaper reports have indicated Brandstetter has submitted her resignation from the Office of Attorney General, and will be leaving the OAG by the end of the month. The OAG has not offered any comment regarding the Brandstetter situation, other than to say the OAG “will be ready to proceed” at trial.

      Five of the defendants were in the courtroom Monday. Mellow did not attend due to health reasons, Cognetti said.
      –Kevin Zwick, Capitolwire

       

       

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      pay to play 2The state’s case in an alleged bid-rigging and bribery scheme at the Turnpike Commission is one of “first impression,” according to the Office of Attorney General, which said the court could “break new legal ground.”

      Deputy Attorney General Laurel Brandstetter said the case, given that it’s focused on commercial bribery and not a different part of the bribery statutes, “can be based upon circumstantial evidence and it can be based upon a pattern of conduct,” not the “neat, tidy quid pro quo” scenario presented in court by defense attorneys on Monday.

      “There need not be an overt discussion,” Brandstetter said.
      William Winning, a defense lawyer for former Turnpike CEO Joseph Brimmeier, said “an appearance is not a substitute for evidence in a courtroom where six defendants are accused of serious charges.”

      “There’s a cloud…an appearance, judge,” he said.

      William Fetterhoff, lawyer for former Turnpike COO George Hatalowich, said unlike other public corruption cases like “Bonusgate” and “Computergate,” which in their core said public money could not be used for political purposes, “the core of the Turnpike case has been elusive.”

      He said it has never been unlawful for public employees to solicit campaign contributions from vendors working or seeking work from their agency.

      “Maybe that should be against the law,” Fetterhoff said, but noted a criminal prosecution is not the proper place to establish a bright legal line “at the expense of the lives of the defendants.”

      Instead, he suggested changing the law should be left to the Legislature.

      Lawyers for former Senate Democratic Leader Bob Mellow, former Turnpike chairman Mitchell Rubin, Brimmeier, Hatalowich, vendor Dennis Miller and vendor consultant Jeffrey Suzenski are making a last-ditch attempt to have charges against them dropped before a mid-November jury trial in Dauphin County court.

      The charges stem from a three-and-a-half year grand jury investigation that found they were allegedly involved in a “pay to play” scheme where political contributions resulted in millions of dollars-worth of Turnpike contracts for certain contributors.

      On the issue of bribery, Dauphin County Judge Richard Lewis questioned Brandstetter about her assertions that fund-raising invitations became, in effect, directives by Brimmeier, Hatalowich and former Turnpike chairman Mitchell Rubin to vendors to contribute in order to be considered for state contracts.

      Reacting to Brandstetter stating that one contractor said “he believed that the contributions would improve the likelihood of getting a contract with the Pennsylvania Turnpike,” Lewis asked: “Wouldn’t any corporation, contracting firm, whatever the case may be, come to that same conclusion?”

      Lewis later continued: “Where are you drawing the line – if I’m starting a contracting company, and I was interested in getting some work on the Turnpike … and I wanted to get my company noticed, would I improve my chance if I show up at some of these events?

      “It has nothing to do with my competence as a contractor, I just want to get my name known, to get my company to be known – I want people to notice me; how else will they [Turnpike officials] notice me out of 25 applications for a project? What’s going to make mine stand out?”

      Brandstetter responded that in Lewis’ scenario, the company or its owner is making a choice to contribute, not, she argued, Turnpike officials calling a company and suggesting the owner participate in or contribute to a Turnpike-hosted event.

      “That’s the distinction … what makes it an issue – it demonstrates they are no longer acting without influence,” argued Brandstetter. She said the problem occurs when “you have people in positions of public trust exerting influence over those they’re doing business with.”

      The commonwealth also argues that Mellow, as Senate leader, used his power and the Senate’s institutional control of the Turnpike to steer business and solicit contributions. His lawyers are asking charges against him be dismissed under “double jeopardy” claims that the state only charged Mellow after he pled guilty to one federal count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

      Dan Brier, one of Mellow’s lawyers, claimed state and federal prosecutors colluded in a “malicious, vindictive, harassing” attempt to charge Mellow for “substantially the same” conduct. Brandstetter said the federal charges were on the misuse of Mellow’s staff in his Lackawanna County Senate office, not related to the Turnpike.
      Judge Lewis said he would make a decision “as soon as possible.”

      –Kevin Zwick & Chris Comisac, Capitolwire

       

      0

      anxietyAARP Pennsylvania has released a new election year poll showing that 50+ voters in November elections worry a secure retirement could be out of reach for them. Voters also want candidates to focus on improving financial security, as they believe incomes have not kept up with their cost of living, especially health costs, taxes and retirement security.

      50+ Voters’ Financial Outlook: Anxious
      The survey’s “Anxiety Index” shows that across party lines, older voters, and particularly those who are not yet retired, feel anxious about their financial security. Voters 50+ worry most about:
      • Costs rising faster than incomes (55%)
      • Health expenses (47%)
      • Paying too much in taxes (61%)
      • Not having enough to pay for care for a spouse who needs assistance with daily activities (45%)
      • Not having financial security in retirement (45%).
      The survey also shows non-retirees, the majority of whom are boomers, are more worried than hopeful about achieving their economic and financial goals (62%), and more than half (57%) say they’ve postponed or will postpone retirement.
      “Too many older voters in Pennsylvania worry that a secure future is out of reach for themselves and their families,” said AARP Pennsylvania President Jim Palmquist. “They’ve had enough of political jargon and spin. They want candidates to talk about common sense solutions that will help them take charge of their financial future.”
      The poll also looks at voter attitudes toward the 2014 gubernatorial candidates, President Obama’s job performance and key issues of interest to 50+ Pennsylvanians, including affordable utilities, caregiving and state lottery spending.

      Affordable Electricity
      The cost of utilities is a growing concern for a majority of 50+ voters (55%), and three-fifths (62%) say energy affordability is very important in helping them make a voting decision.
      • 62% believe it’s important to have default electric plans for consumers priced at lowest reasonable rate
      • More than three-fourths (77%) of 50+ voters favor installing rate caps for electric customers with variable rate plans.

      Living independently and Caregiving
      Voters overwhelmingly want to live independently as they age and see this as a critical election issue, with 74% wanting elected officials to make availability of at-home care a priority.
      • When tasks become too difficult due to age or illness, 50+ voters want to receive care in their homes rather than more costly nursing homes (71%)
      • Many voters 50+ have been or are caregivers (56%), or expect to be caregivers in the future (25%).

      Lottery Spending
      Voters do not support recent decisions by state officials to shift lottery proceeds away from programs that help seniors remain at home so that more money can be spent on nursing home care.
      • There is near universal support (78%) to shift state lottery spending from nursing home to home-based care.

      50+ Voters and the 2014 Elections
      • When the poll was conducted in June, Challenger Tom Wolf [D] held a 23-point lead (56-33) over incumbent Tom Corbett [R] in the gubernatorial race, with 11% of 50+ voters still undecided.
      • Nearly half of undecided voters (49%) say it is hard to find objective and reliable information about candidates running for office this November.
      • Just 38% of Pennsylvania’s likely older voters approve of President Obama’s job performance.

      Methodology: This was a statewide telephone survey conducted among 800 likely 2014 voters age 50/over (margin of error ±3.5 percentage points) June 10-22, 2014, including 446 retirees (margin of error ±4.6 percentage points), and 354 non-retirees (margin of error ±5.2 percentage points). Respondents were selected at random from a list of registered voters and were reached either on a landline or mobile phone.

      The entire poll is available at www.aarp.org/yourvote.

       

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